By Josette Keelor
Richard "Ritchie" Murray of Edinburg is 77 and has no regrets.
"I can't complain about my childhood or you know where I've ended up yet," he said. "I really can't say that I've been robbed. I would have liked to have known my sister a few years earlier but..."
He didn't finish the thought, but his half-sister Sylbie Yon, 67, of Eatonton, Ga., picked up where he stopped.
"It would have been cool having a brother," she said. She has a daughter and three grandsons who live in Macon, Ga., and had a sister who died in 1992, but growing up a tomboy Yon always wanted a brother.
The siblings met for the first time in July when Murray and his daughter Lynne, of Hesperia, Calif., traveled to Georgia. A sign at Yon's house greeted them saying, "Here at last."
Then last weekend when Yon came to meet the rest of Murray's family in Virginia, a sign in his yard answered, "Here at last too."
Learning he had a sister was the second part of a big family secret his daughter broke to him last December -- he was adopted.
Lynne Murray learned the secret in 2002 -- a secret that only a handful of people knew. It would resurface whenever the family faced the possibility of the secret dying.
Ritchie Murray was 15 when his adoptive father died from heart disease. Before his death, the father revealed the secret to a family friend in New Jersey and asked him to look after the boy.
The friend told Ritchie Murray's future in laws when he and the woman who would become his wife became serious. They kept the secret until 1989, when Richie's mother-in-law was dying and told her daughter, Ritchie's sister-in-law Karen Elmorshedi, who in turn told her niece, Ritchie's daughter Lynne, after Ritchie's wife died.
But Lynne Murray kept the secret from her father for another 10 years.
He was still grieving the loss of his wife, so Lynne Murray held off telling what she knew. Her aunt promised to help her confirm the rumor, but then Elmorshedi married and moved to Egypt. After several years, "I kind of forgot about it," Lynne Murray said. "In hindsight I kind of regret the delay."
Once the news sunk in, her father wasn't that concerned with learning he was adopted. His parents -- the ones he'd known -- had been gone for more than 20 years.
But then in May he learned he had a sister, and everything changed.
After his daughter spent months searching on Ancestry.com and even talking with a private investigator in New Jersey, she finally learned his birth mother, Evelina Rinehart Peters of New Jersey, had a living daughter.
"Took me three times to read the death certificate before I finally realized there is next of kin here," she said. "I kept missing it, you know?" She left a voice mail for Yon, who returned the call within 30 minutes.
"They're so alike, that's what's so amazing," said Lynne Murray, 47. But the others have said she and Yon's daughter, Laurie Colter, 46, are a lot alike, too.
And now that the secret's out, the family has started noticing signs they should have seen before.
Yon's mother kept mementos that never meant anything to her before -- a photo of a mile marker No. 1 in Virginia and another of a German shepherd they used to have named Shenandoah.
"Why did she have these photos of Virginia?" Yon said she used to wonder. Yon grew up in New Jersey before moving to Georgia when she was 13, and she didn't know the family had any connection to Virginia.
But there was also a photo of a house in New Jersey she didn't recognize from her childhood, and a 1950s pamphlet from the Catholic Church pondering whether or not an unwed mother should marry for her reputation.
"She probably debated about that," Yon said. Peters was 19 when she gave birth to her son.
"It was just meant to be kept a secret," Yon said, "But then I got mad at her. Laurie and those three boys are it for me for the only blood relatives I had in the entire world. So why couldn't she have said 'Oh by the way, why don't you go look and you can find your brother?'"
Colter and her youngest son also came to Virginia this week to meet Ritchie Murray's three sons and their families.
"It's almost like having my grandmother back when we're around him," Colter said.
"It just seems amazing to me that Grandma lived her whole live and never told anybody," Colter said. "I can't imagine being a young girl and having a baby and giving it up for adoption and not, well I guess her parents knew obviously, but not ever telling anybody or if she did, nobody ever told."
"To me," Yon said, "I don't even know the words for how much Ritchie reminds me of my mother. ... Even though he wasn't ever in contact with her, he still has a lot of her qualities. I guess you inherit some things. It's not all environment."
Lynne Murray said their first visit in July felt totally natural even though she thought it would feel weird. "Because, you know, we're all complete strangers," she said.
But her father added, "Not anymore."
"I was a little apprehensive about, you know, who I was meeting," he said, "but now she's OK. She can be my sister, that's for sure."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org